Andy Birchfield, Jr., got a jump start on the Vioxx litigation. His firm, Montgomery-based Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, began filing cases in 2001, three years before Merck & Co., Inc., pulled its prescription painkiller from the shelf after a study showed users faced an increased risk of heart attacks.

Since the September announcement by Merck, Birchfield has become a frequent face in the media, appearing on 60 Minutes and CNBC, among other outlets. He reports that his firm is evaluating more than 10,000 cases. That figure is partly why a group of some 40 prominent mass tort lawyers who met informally in New Orleans in November voiced support for Birchfield to co-lead the federal litigation. Birchfield’s stop in the Big Easy was just one of many he made in November. Above is a look at his travels over just a two-week span.

Mass torts like these don’t go away quickly. To chart developments in this sprawling arena, we’re inaugurating “The Vioxx Watch.” We’ll use this space periodically to take a snapshot of the unfolding story.

Merck has been hit from all sides. In November the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the country’s second-largest public pension fund, sued it for securities fraud because it failed to disclose safety hazards that Vioxx posed. The fund claimed it lost $171 million after the drug’s withdrawal.

Much liability remains in question. Congress held hearings-will it act? What will the federal investigations turn up? Will the federal civil cases be consolidated? And what about those state suits? Plaintiffs lawyers were filing cases in state courts years before the withdrawal, and some are expected to go to trial this month.



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